David Dick Reviews Emily Crocker, Allison Gallagher and Aisyah Shah Idil

5 December 2017

Of the three chapbooks, I found Crocker’s Girls and Buoyant (which is a great title, popping a floaty adjective in place of the expected noun: ‘boys’) to be the most slippery to grasp and the most rewarding to reread. Crocker has a vivid way with her imagery, an almost casual ability to draw attention to the unexpected. How can ‘the names of the other rocks’ move out of someone’s ‘mind like an abattoir’? I was struck by ‘Canberra’s buoyant sky’ and ‘air … trying to hold itself up, chin high.’ The ‘meat of his tongue’ and ‘muddy tongue’ (in separate poems) were images that stayed with me for days – the visceral, steak-like description caused me to reconsider the flesh of my own tongue. This way with imagery probably speaks for Crocker’s performance and slam poetry (and she is absolutely worth tracking down on YouTube). The best slam poets always have this ability to make common experience – even if it is very individual to the person telling it – interesting, worth hearing, for their audience; it is why slam is such a powerful medium of social message. (Just one example is the poem, ‘I am a Nasty Woman,’ written by Nina Donavan and made famous by Ashley Judd’s impassioned reading.) Crocker maintains all of its rhythmic and performative aspects in writing – Girls and Buoyant really comes alive read loud, its pattering and lineation and cheeky movements are a delight off the tongue – but she avoids much of slam’s characteristic and, at-times, problematic bluntness, which can be effective if in the right hands, but also tired if roped into a rant. Her poem, ‘Resolution,’ which tells of being hungover and wary of joggers, is an example of her control; unveiling, in an O’Hara-esque manner, her own tired self-loathing, which both distinguishes her and universalises her experience, for who else hasn’t sat and watched with fear and antipathy people exercising while you feel like dirt, bound (again) for work:

Look at these people. Jogging.
On January 4th. They must 
hate themselves. Hate their fluorescent
sneakers made from recycled sea junk
and made by slaves.
[…]
                    They must hate themselves
as I hate morning sun stuck in my eye
tumbling onto the bus somehow
both hungover and employed.

Girls and Buoyant is filled with food, body parts (‘tongues’, of course, are the primary vehicle for sound and the tool of any performance poet), places, music, automobiles, cafes, farms, roads and cities – it is full of these things and people doing stuff with them and to them and in them. It is a populated book, wryly amusing and observant. As I was assailed by these scenarios and their business, I became buried under Crocker’s attention to their scent, alive to the world she is describing and building and, obviously, existing within, where the cost of a smashed avo is the cost of the house: ‘Avocado, I didn’t want to settle down anyway. / A wife, two-and-a-bit kids, and a Maltese terrier / called Ferrett with grass stains on its arse.’ It is curious how in a book so filled with objects and descriptions – a very material rendering of her experience – Crocker rejects a kind of tired consumerism that would see her assume the role of mother and caretaker, giving voice also to the millennial exhaustion; our ill-perceived failure to conform with how our parents lived their lives; our rejection, apparently, of hard work and family. But, then, this is what Girls and Buoyant seems to me to be constantly and happily doing: displacing any kind of expectation about how to conceive the world or create it in poetry, yet, as Crocker wonderfully does, continue to live and thrive in it. Indeed, such subversion is evident in all three chapbooks; found in the nuanced and compelling dismissals of the names and roles to which society has tried to attach their authors.

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